Westminster alumna becomes the first woman CEO of Alpine Canada
by Liz Dobbins (’21)
Vania Grandi’s (MBA ’05) life has been an extraordinary adventure. When she was five, her parents immigrated from northern Italy to Banff, Canada—knowing no English—in the hopes of providing Vania and her siblings access to the outdoors. Right away, the children were placed in ski racing. By the age of 14, Vania had made the national Canadian ski team and competed until her last few years of high school, when she attended Burke Mountain Academy in Vermont—a boarding school that focused on ski racing along with maintaining a high level of education. “You’d get up at six o’clock and have your morning run,” Vania says. “In the winter, you’d ski and study; you’d split the day. It was very intense, and I loved it. I thrived in that environment.”
A year after graduating from high school, Vania enrolled at Dartmouth College, where she was captain of the ski team and made All American twice. When graduation arrived, Vania was clueless as to what she wanted to do. She had a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and loved writing, traveling, and experiencing new cultures. This love for writing and adventure led her back to Italy, where she became an intern—and later a journalist—for the Associated Press (AP).
“It was the best thing for me because I gained confidence and learned how to look at an issue from at least two angles. I became more open-minded because I realized not everyone has the same worldview,” Vania says. “I still tell everyone that the communication I learned—writing, questioning issues, being able to have a balanced view, and articulating your thoughts—has really been a key to my success and future roles as I have progressed in my career.”
After working in Rome for eight years, Vania asked to be transferred to Salt Lake City to cover the 2002 Olympic Winter Games. She was soon contacted by the Olympic Committee and offered a job to help rebrand the Olympics after 9/11. She jumped at the opportunity. A few years into the job, the committee asked Vania to transfer back to Italy. It was then that she decided she needed a career change.
“Even though I worked for big companies like AP and the Olympic Committee, I never saw the business side of it,” Vania says. “I decided to go to Westminster to fill that gap and learn how businesses manage their HR, finance, marketing, and sales. It was a fantastic experience.”
Westminster’s small class sizes and the engagement students have with the professors reminded Vania of Dartmouth, and so she applied to the MBA program. “By going to Westminster, I was able to fill those gaps in my experience and skillset and really emerge as a well-rounded business person,” Vania says.
Vania points to her Westminster experience as one that taught her how to become a leader. Team projects along with classes encompassing team roles and responsibilities gave her the skills she needed to take her next career step as a team leader for Rio Tinto—a mining and metals company. However, it wasn’t just the skills that Vania gained at Westminster that landed her the job: it was also the connections she made through the college. Janet Haskell—Vania’s Master Track advisor and now lifelong friend—lead Vania to Rio Tinto and helped her land the job.
“She told me you should do your due diligence and talk to people there,” Vania says. Vania joined Rio Tinto in January 2005—the last semester of her MBA program. She had two children under the age of two, was working a full-time job, and was finishing her master’s by taking night classes. Vania worked with Rio Tinto until the end of 2017, moving her way up from principal advisor of sustainable development to general manager for Rio Tinto’s metallic, iron, steel, and powdered portfolio, along with having responsibility for plants in China and India, as well as a few in Europe.
Twelve years later, Vania once again reevaluated what she wanted from her career. “I decided to try and find something that would help me merge my business skills with my passion for sports,” Vania says. “It happened that Alpine Canada, which is the Canadian Ski Federation, was looking for a new CEO. I went for it, and I got the job.”
Vania made history as the first woman CEO of Alpine Canada. She credits the business and leadership skills she learned from Westminster—along with the connections she made—for leading her to doing what she loves. “It’s a great opportunity to learn new skills, meet new people, and be back in my environment in ski racing,” she says.
About the Westminster Review
The Westminster Review is Westminster University’s bi-annual alumni magazine that is distributed to alumni and community members. Each issue aims to keep alumni updated on campus current events and highlights the accomplishments of current students, professors, and Westminster alum.